Working Together to Get Further, Faster: Lessons Learned from REI’s Reforestation Commitment

Written by: Reana Kovalcik, 2021

People who work in the environmental, outdoor, and recreation fields think a lot about plusses and minuses. Not so much because they love math problems, but because they must always carefully consider whether their activities, products, or projects will add value to the natural world, or subtract from it. As the co-op’s Director of Community Advocacy and President of the REI Cooperative Action Fund, Marc Berejka is focused on ensuring that REI and their community of outdoor enthusiasts give back more than they take.

“In the outdoor industry, we ask, ‘what’s our value-add?’” says Berejka. “From REI’s perspective, we think we ought to be leaning into strategies that reinforce and reinvigorate the health of our natural environment. Trees are the quintessential tool to meet that need. Healthy forests mean healthy soils, mean clean water, mean clean air, mean great places to recreate, camp, and hang out. If we’re talking about climate, forests are fundamental.”

For 83 years, REI has fought for life outdoors, prioritizing environmental stewardship and investing in outdoor spaces and public lands. As part of their ongoing commitment to addressing the climate crisis, REI has partnered on a pledge with the National Forest Foundation (NFF) to plant at least 1 million trees across U.S. National Forests over the next decade.

“It’s going to take an array of strategies to mitigate the effects of climate change and reduce the amount of CO2 we’re releasing into the environment,” says Berejka. “Trees are an essential tool to meet that need. Trees naturally sequester carbon, but they also provide so many other environmental, social, and even economic benefits. That’s why we need to redouble our efforts to reforest our country.”

REI also pledged this past year to cut the company’s greenhouse gas emissions by more than half and launched the REI Cooperative Action Network as a means of engaging their 20 million member community more deeply in the fight against the climate crisis. The first action item on the newly formed network has both a forest and a climate focus: Help pass the Repair Existing Public Land by Adding Necessary Trees (REPLANT) Act, legislation that is currently pending in the House as part of a bipartisan infrastructure package.

Through their reforestation efforts with the NFF, REI is supporting collaborative community partnerships and projects that build resiliency across our national forests. REI will target their pledged replanting efforts toward high-priority sites— those adversely impacted by severe wildfire, pest, disease, blowdown, and other natural disturbances—identified in partnership with NFF and with the support of professional foresters.

“The more of us who work on this together, the further we can get faster,” Berejka explains. “Cooperative Action isn’t just the name for our network, we really believe in the power of cooperative action. There’s so much to being part of the community, even beyond addressing climate change. By all these different stakeholders linking arms under the banner, we’re driving additional value back into the environment and society.”

Asked for his recommendations on how individuals and communities can make a difference, Berejka stresses the importance of pairing efforts like tree planting with civic engagement and advocacy.

“It’s noisy out there, there are a lot of distractions and things calling for our attention,” Berejka says. “One of the inspiring things about the mission is that it’s a call to action. When you look at a tree, I’d like people to realize how much that tree is really giving back. Think about how you can give back, raise awareness with more people, who can you get involved with, what steps can you take.”